An innovative instrument on a telescope in Chile has discovered 72 previously hidden galaxies dating back 13 billion years, shortly after the formation of the universe.

The galaxies were discovered with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) that used data from the Hubble Space Telescope. 

From September 2003 to January 2004, the Hubble Space Telescope turned towards a tiny patch of sky in the Fornax constellation and captured a stunning 10,000 galaxies in an area less than two per cent of the area of the full moon. Some of the galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang, which took place 13.8 billion years ago.

Hubble imaged the same region of the sky in the Fornax constellation many times following the initial observation, which provided the richest view of the universe ever seen.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2012

This image shows the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2012, an improved version of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image featuring additional observation time. (NASA, ESA, R. Ellis (Caltech), a)

Astronomers using MUSE were able to study 1,600 galaxies in the region not in visible light as Hubble does, but by breaking the light down into its various colours called spectroscopy.

Using that method, their data revealed 72 new galaxies dating back 13 billion years that shine in a type of light unseen by Hubble.

"MUSE can do something that Hubble can't — it splits up the light from every point in the image into its component colours to create a spectrum," Roland Bacon from the Lyon Centre for Astrophysics Research said in a statement. "This allows us to measure the distance, colours and other properties of all the galaxies we can see — including some that are invisible to Hubble itself."

The new data has provided a wealth of information, including hydrogen haloes around galaxies that formed early in the universe's history. 

The observations were published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics